Hurricane of August 1944 Redux

Here's Robin Hathaway's post from August of last year, where she reminisces about the Great Storm that hit Stone Harbor, carrying away their boardwalk, which was never replaced. I thought you might find it edifying this week – Kate Gallison


Memories of a Hurricane Past
Stone Harbor, New Jersey, August, 1944.

The day began overcast and muggy. As the day wore on the air became more clammy and clingy and there was an eerie stillness. No leaf, flag, or skirt stirred. My brother and I were restless and excited. Our father was nervous, listening closely to the warnings on the radio. Our mother was oblivious, napping on the sofa.

Around four o’clock the sky took on a yellow stain. A little later, the wind and rain began. Our house was only a block and a half from the ocean. My brother and I took up our post on the stair landing, where there was a window from which we could see the boardwalk and the ocean. As we gleefully watched the storm gather strength our father banged doors and windows shut, and our mother slept peacefully on.

Suddenly, as we watched, the little pavilion on the boardwalk, with its bright green roof, was tossed in the air, as if part of a toy village, and disappeared. About this time, our father decided to evacuate us and return to Philadelphia. “Everyone put on your rain gear and grab your most precious possession,” he ordered. “We’re leaving.”

At this point the lights went out and my mother woke up. “What’s going on?” she asked, innocently. Immediately taking in the situation, she said, “John, don’t you think it’s a little late for that?”

But my father persisted and I found myself in my bedroom facing a difficult decision. On top of the bed lay my violin, newly purchased for the pursuit of a musical career. Under the bed was a pair of fuzzy, bunny, bedroom slippers. After a few seconds, I grabbed the slippers.

Finally gathered on the front porch, clutching our personal treasures, we watched the rushing torrent that had once been 86th Street. Although the water was over the hubcaps of our car, my father, led us bravely down the steps toward it. Just then a police car appeared, churning water right and left. The officer rolled down his window and waved us back. “Stay where you are,” he said. “Your house is on the highest point of land.” {Not all that reassuring since everyone knows, the Jersey Shore is flat.) He churned onward.

Back we trooped into the darkening house, to sit in gloom at the kitchen table eating cold cuts and sipping lemonade. (I think my parents had something stronger.)

Two hours later, the sun burst out in the form of a radiant sunset. The winds died down, the rivers receded, and the streets reappeared. It was one of the most tranquil evenings I can remember. Eagerly, my brother and I set out to see the damage. A strange scene met our eyes. The boardwalk that had stretched the length of the beach for almost a hundred years had vanished. All that remained were the pilings that looked as if they had been measured and sawed off at the exact same height by an unseen hand. At regular intervals along the sand, were neat piles of seashells – exotic conchs that had never graced the Jersey Shore before. An apartment house, a longtime fixture on the boardwalk, had been stripped of its seaward wall, and looked like the back of a giant doll’s house – all its rooms visible with their furnishings tumbled about.

Belatedly realizing that we might be in danger – of exposed electric wires, gaping chasms, etc., – our parents appeared and dragged us home. When I entered my room, the first thing I saw was my violin. Still snug in its case on the bed – a sad reminder of a musical career – lost forever.

Robin Hathaway